Category Archives: Bread

Two for Tuesday: King Cake and Paczki

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Happy Mardi Gras!  Growing up, we always called today Fat Tuesday.  We would eat a lot today before Lent started tomorrow.  An Italian tradition is to make very large meatballs with raisins; however, my family didn’t like the raisins so they didn’t use them.  I can get on board with the Irish tradition of pancakes or the Polish tradition of jelly doughnuts, or paczki.  I got these from the grocery store.  They were a tad stale with cheap-flavored jelly in them, but I’m sure real ones are the bomb.

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I wanted to try my hand at making a New Orleans king cake.  I read a lot of recipes beforehand, and every one is a bit different.  So I mixed and matched and came up with the following recipe.

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King Cake

For the cake:

2 packages active dry yeast (1/4 oz. each)

1/2 cup warm water (110-115 degrees F)

1/2 cup sugar

1 stick butter, softened

1/2 cup warm milk (110-115 degrees F)

2 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

3 1/2 cups flour (may need more)

For the filling:

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 cup butter, softened

For the icing:

1 box powdered sugar

5-6 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons light cream

green, purple and gold colored sugars (I bought these ready made at Target.)

For the cake, dissolve yeast in warm water.  Add 1/2 cup sugar, butter, milk, eggs, salt, orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg, and flour.  Beat on low speed in a KitchenAid mixer with a dough hook until a dough forms.  You may have to add more flour until you see the dough is no longer sticking to the bottom of the bowl.  The dough should not be too sticky.

Knead dough on a floured surface until you have a nice dough ball.  Put dough in a bowl greased with olive oil.  Cover and let rise in a warm place.  (I wrapped it in a blanket and put it near the heat in my bedroom.)  This may take a few hours.  It should double in size.

After it doubles, punch it down and roll it into a rectangle.  I made my rectangle about 18 x 8 but you could make it longer lengthwise so that you have more flexibility to roll it into different shapes (like the Haydel’s long rectangular shape).

Spread the filling on with a spatula and leave about 1 inch around the edges.  Roll it up and then pinch to seal the edges.  Use some water to do this.  It’s a bit tricky but really make sure to do it or the filling will seep out while baking.

Put it on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and let it double in size again.

Bake at 375 degrees F on a baking sheet for 10 minutes and then 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.  Cool completely.  When cool, lift up and put plastic baby somewhere in the bottom of the cake.  (You can’t bake the baby in or it might melt.)  Drizzle with icing and sprinkle with colored sugars on top.

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Sweets Week: Day 1: Orwasher’s Bakery

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There’s a sweet bready smell in the air at Orwasher’s Bakery. It’s as inviting as the friendly service.  Yes, it’s true, I rarely make it up to Yorkville and the Upper East Side, but Orwasher’s alone is worth a trip.  Especially for a jelly doughnut fanatic such as myself.  Orwasher’s has large pillowy doughnuts that are filled to order with your choice of strawberry, raspberry, sour cherry, blueberry or other fillings.

sour cherry jelly doughnut

sour cherry jelly doughnut

Wow, I’ve never seen filled-to-order jelly doughnuts before.  And the fillings are like preserves, not the standard blood-red goo in most commercial jelly doughnuts.

strawberry jelly doughnut

strawberry jelly doughnut

The bread looks amazing here, and I opted for a the seasonal pumpkin loaf, which was out of this world good with a little butter and sprinkle of cinnamon.

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Dina’s Guide to NYC Italian Bakeries

Happy Columbus Day!  In honor of Columbus Day, I’m featuring my guide to NYC Italian bakeries.  Unfortunately, none of the bakeries is near the parade route!

I’ve been eating at area bakeries now for a long time, and I consider myself a connoisseur of Italian American baked goods.  First thing I’d like to mention is that there are two types of Italian bakeries.  One is the bread bakery and the other is the pastry shop.

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Italian bread bakeries have really gone the way of the dinosaur in Manhattan, with Parisi Bakery being the only one I know of.  I used to go to Vesuvio’s in Soho, which you may have seen depicted in postcards for its quaint, green painted storefront.  (This is a moot point as Vesuvio’s is closed, but Vesuvio’s made excellent Italian bread.  Its bread was an example of how Italian American bread should be made.  I was quite surprised to see Jack Robertiello write in his Mangia! book that Vesuvio’s bread wasn’t that good and that Sullivan Street Bakery’s was better.  I’m not knocking Jim Lahey–I love his no-knead recipe.   I’m simply stating that those who are looking for a classic Italian American bread bakery would have found a haven at Vesuvio.)  Another was Zito’s on Bleecker Street, which my family had been going to probably since it opened.  Italian bread is a wonderful thing, but it is extremely hard to find Italian bread that is done the way the immigrants did it.  For example, Pecoraro’s in Jersey City made excellent Italian bread.  The bakery still exists, but it has new owners and the bread is not the same.  Second Street Bakery in Jersey City used to make the best pepperoni bread, but I’ve had it in recent years and it’s not what it used to be.  So I think it would be moot to write about Italian bread in NYC, as it is virtually nonexistent.  (There are bread bakeries on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx though.)  I’m glad to have tasted its remnants as a younger person, but it’s all but gone now.  Lament, lament.

The other type of Italian bakery is the pastry shop.  I divide these into three kinds:  the bakery, where there is a pastry case and you just buy without sitting and eating; the pastry shop, where there is a pastry case and you can sit and eat the pastries; or the café, where there is pastry and desserts and maybe other kinds of food with waiter service.  In New York City, the Italian bakery is also dying, but it’s a slow death.  There are still some pastry shops.  It’s definitely not what it used to be, and that is simply because Italian Americans have moved out of the NYC areas where they first immigrated to and assimilated into American society elsewhere.  (Hey, I love me some red velvet cake along with my cannoli!)  Also, rents in NYC are astronomical, and it makes it hard for small mom and pops to survive.  So as the middle class leaves New York and it gentrifies, so go the old ethnic business establishments.  However, for now, there are still some bakeries/pastry shops/cafés to sample some delicious Italian American pastries.

The list below includes all the Italian bakeries in Manhattan.  I am not including a lot of bakeries in the outer boroughs and New Jersey because 1. I don’t go there that often or 2. I haven’t been to the bakery in years so I can’t speak to how it is now.  So don’t get upset with me if your favorite bakery is not on my list.  I am not including Arthur Avenue in the Bronx even though it has a lot of Italian bakeries.   I’ve written about them here, and I think that if you go to the area, any one you try will be excellent.

The ones I’ve listed are good.  Some bakeries do some items better than others.  But they all excel at something, namely, keeping tradition alive in a difficult time.  My all-time favorite bakery is Monteleone’s in Jersey City.  I think it exemplifies Italian American taste.  My favorite cafés were the old Caffe Dante and La Lanterna.  I have spent many hours (and dollars) in both of these places in the past 20 years.  So on to the question everyone wants to know.  Who has the best cannoli?  This is a tough one.  My answer is Monteleone’s followed by Villabate Alba.  But again, you can’t go wrong at any of these places.

Manhattan

East Village

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Veniero’s is what remains of what used to be an Italian neighborhood.  Yes, a lot of people do not know this because it’s the East Village and there isn’t much everlasting Italian influence right here.  It claims to be America’s oldest pastry shop, opening in 1894.  Veniero’s is also owned by Bruce Springsteen’s cousin, so that’s kind of cool.  I really like the hot drinks at Veniero’s.

Veniero’s, 342 E. 11th Street (between 1st Avenue & 2nd Avenue), (212) 674-7070, www.venierospastry.com

West Village

Rocco’s is the last man standing in this old Italian neighborhood even though the pastry shop itself is not that old.  My family came from this area, lived on Carmine Street and went to Our Lady of Pompeii Church across the street.  Today, Rocco’s does a brisk business.  He’s got a great location on the much-trafficked Bleecker Street.  Yes, the big fat cookies in the window beckon you into the bakery, but get the cheesecake.  It’s the best in the city, hands down.  (Yes, better than Junior’s.)

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Pasticceria Rocco, 243 Bleecker Street (between Carmine Street & Leroy Street), (212) 242-6031, www.pasticceriarocco.com

Noho

La Lanterna brings me back to my youth, when I whiled away the hours writing in a Village café–before laptops and cell phones, when the world was more calm and quiet and I took pen to paper as I sipped cappuccino and ate profiteroles or raspberry sorbet.  La Lanterna has a garden and fireplace.  For more, read my blog post on La Lanterna.

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Caffe Reggio, dating back to 1927, boasts the first cappuccino machine in New York City.

Caffe Reggio, 119 MacDougal Street, (212) 475-9557, www.caffereggio.com

La Lanterna, 129 MacDougal Street, (212) 529-5945, www.lalanternacaffe.com

Little Italy

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Ferrara is a legendary Italian pastry shop.  Just walk in to Ferrara and look at the glass case.

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How do you decide what to eat?  It’s a tough choice, as everything looks so good.

treats from La Bella Ferrara

treats from La Bella Ferrara

La Bella Ferrara is an old school bakery.  Walk in there and the waft of fresh-baked cookies fills the air.  The cookies here are amazing.  I admit I haven’t frequented Caffe Roma or Caffe Palermo very often, but Caffe Roma does have delicious gelato and lemon ice.  Caffe Roma was formerly Caffe Ronca, opened by Italian immigrant Pasquale Ronca in 1891 and run with his brother Giovanni who came to NYC a year later.  It was a hangout for NYC’s literati–writers, artists, musicians, actors.  Pasquale would go on to be impresario for Italian songs for the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  In 1952, Vincento Zeccardi, an immigrant and former church ceiling painter, bought it, and it is still in his family today.  And Caffe Palermo is known as the Cannoli King of the San Gennaro festival.

cassata from Caffe Palermo

cassata from Caffe Palermo

Ferrara, 195 Grand Street (between Mulberry Street & Mott Street), (212) 226-6150, www.ferraracafe.com

La Bella Ferrara, 108 Mulberry Street (between Canal Street & Hester Street), (212) 966-7867, https://www.yelp.com/biz/la-bella-ferrara-new-york

Caffe Roma, 385 Broome Street, (between Mulberry St & Mott St), (212) 226-8413, https://www.yelp.com/biz/caffe-roma-pastry-new-york

Caffe Palermo, 148 Mulberry Street (between Hester Street & Grand Street), (212) 431-4205, www.caffepalermo.com

Hell’s Kitchen

D’Aiuto’s is well-known nationwide for creating the Baby Watson cheesecake.  Founded by Italian immigrants in 1924, it is no longer owned by an Italian family.  Here’s a good article on the history of D’Aiuto’s.  According to Yelp, it is closed, but it looks like you may be able to get the cheesecake at a nearby deli.  I suggest calling ahead.

Congratulations to Cake Boss Buddy Valastro of Carlo’s in Hoboken for building a brand and a reputation for crazy cool cakes!  I loved watching the show about his bakery.  This bakery is in a crowded area near Port Authority that I try to avoid.  The bakery itself is also very crowded with insanely long lines.  They do have Italian pastries like cannoli, lobster tails and rainbow cookies as well as others.  The upside is you can get a photo with a life-sized bobble head of Buddy.

Cake Boss Café, 625 8th Avenue (between 41st Street & 40th Street), (646) 590-3783, www.CakeBossCafe.com

D’Aiuto’s, 405 8th Avenue, (between 30th Street & 31st Street), (212) 564-7136, https://www.yelp.com/biz/d-aiuto-baby-watson-cheesecake-new-york?sort_by=date_desc

Brooklyn

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Villabate Alba in Bensonhurst used to be two separate bakeries, Villabate and Alba.  You can read my blog post on my experience with a Villabate cannoli.  Villabate Alba is a Sicilian bakery, and they do the Italian things well.  (OK, I did get a red velvet cupcake which I would pass on.)  But look at those sfinge.  You can see why there’s a line around the block on St. Joseph’s Day.

Villabate Alba, 7001 18th Avenue (between 70th Street & 71st Street), (718) 331-8430, www.villabate.com

Hoboken

My family loved the pastries at Carlo’s.  In recent years, I think the focus is more on cakes and less on Italian pastries.  For more information, read my article on Carlo’s.

Carlo’s, 95 Washington Street,  (201) 659-3671, www.carlosbakery.com

Jersey City

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And again, Jersey City comes in last after NYC.  But this time it’s a good thing. I saved the best for last.  Monteleone’s is the quintessential Italian American bakery.  Hey, they don’t have a website, doesn’t that tell you enough?  This is where you go for pastries.  Their Italian rum cake is the best.  Their cannoli are the best.  You can’t go wrong here.  They even have American pastries.  There’s nothing like their crumb cake fresh in the morning.  If you come during Lent, you have to try a hot cross bun.  I can’t sing the praises of Monteleone’s enough.

Sfinge (and crumb cake) from Monteleone's

Sfinge and crumb cake from Monteleone’s

And it’s a short trip on the Journal Square Path train to Journal Square and a short walk from the station.  You can also check out Little India while you’re there.  (As if you’re not full enough, there’s a Filipino bakery down the block too.)

Monteleone’s, 741 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, NJ 07306, (201) 798-0576, https://www.yelp.com/biz/monteleone-bakery-jersey-city

 

–Dina Di Maio

Some Buttermilk Recipes

I had some extra buttermilk I needed to use up, which is a frequent occurrence for me because I have a buttermilk obsession and always keep it in the house.  So I did a Google search for recipes using buttermilk.  I found this one by Ina Garten for Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits.  The only thing I did differently was not brush them with egg wash or sprinkle with salt.  I took them out in 20 minutes, which was just right.  They are delicious and will disappear quickly.

I also found a recipe for Impossible Buttermilk Pie, which I think must’ve been a Bisquick recipe because it calls for it.  I didn’t have Bisquick, but I did have a packet of pancake mix I got from Tendabake at the NC State Fair last year.  So I used that in place of the Bisquick.  It tastes like a big pancake, so I’m calling it…

Pancake Pie

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup Tendabake pancake mix (Maple Burst)

1/3 cup melted butter

1 cup buttermilk

3 eggs

1 t vanilla

In a bowl, mix the sugar and pancake mix.  Add butter, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla.  Blend well.  Pour into greased 9-in. pie plate.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.  Cool.

Jordan Pond House Popovers

Here is a popover mix from Jordan Pond House at Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine:

These are the popovers made from the mix:

Served with butter and strawberry jam just like at Jordan Pond House.

Old Salem

I recently took a trip to Old Salem in Winston-Salem, NC.  The historic town was settled by Moravians in 1766.  Wachovia was the name of the land they settled in NC, and Salem was its city center.  It was lovely touring the area, which is nestled in the middle of Salem College, in the fall when the colored leaves were on the ground.  People dressed in period costume and a horse and buggy took tourists around.  Of course, I wanted to visit the bakery, Winkler Bakery, founded in 1800, that is still a working bakery.  There was a long line in the small space, but it moved fairly quickly.  I picked up Moravian sugar cake

and a Moravian lovefeast bun.  Both were very good.  The sugar cake was a soft, cinnamony pull-apart cake that was fresh and yummy.  The lovefeast bun was a fruity sweet bread.

The bakery is also famous for the thin and crisp Moravian cookies, of which I admit I am not a huge fan.

In addition to the bakery, I toured the doctor’s house and saw the kitchen in the rear of his house and the oven out back where bread was being baked.  (Not really.  And sorry for the poor quality of picture.)

In one of the shops, I saw tea packaged in squares called “Brick tea.”  There’s an interesting story behind it that you can read here:

I ate dinner at the Old Salem Tavern, a charming, quaint restaurant made to look like Colonial times.  I had the caramelized pear salad and was pleasantly surprised to find a pear half with a thin hardened crust of caramel atop my greens.  The pear salad was delicious with its toasted pistachios, blue cheese crumbles and dried plums, despite the caramel shards.  I also had scallops and wished I had ordered the Moravian chicken pie, but I confess, I wasn’t very hungry since I had eaten from the bakery earlier.